The Latest: Hungary allows tougher asylum-seeker conditions

AP News
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Posted: May 10, 2016 1:02 PM
The Latest: Hungary allows tougher asylum-seeker conditions

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — The Latest on the flow of migrants into Europe (all times local):

8 p.m.

Hungary's parliament has approved tougher conditions for asylum seekers, including cutting allowed stays at reception centers from 60 days to 30 days and gradually reducing their social benefits and subsidies.

Human rights groups say the changes authorized Tuesday by lawmakers are meant to discourage refugees from seeking asylum in Hungary.

Julia Ivan, a lawyer with the Hungarian Helsinki Committee, says Hungary is "forcing refugees into increasingly worse and unpleasant situations."

According to the Office of Immigration and Nationality, 197 people were granted asylum or some other sort of international protection in January-April.

Some earlier proposals which, for example, would have given those in asylum detention centers as much space as inmates in prison, weren't included in the current modifications.

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5:55 p.m.

Estonian border officials say they have detained seven Iranian migrants who managed to cross the Narva River separating Russia and Estonia in an inflatable boat.

Spokeswoman Kerttu Krall said Tuesday that six of the migrants — two men, two women and two children — were caught in the early hours of Saturday immediately after they had landed on the shores of Estonia.

A 23-year-old man managed to escape but was caught Saturday evening at the harbor of Tallinn, where he had hitchhiked with the apparent intention of catching a ferry to neighboring Nordic countries.

Officials said it was the third illegal crossing on the Estonia-Russia border this year. A total of 23 illegal crossings were recorded in 2015, down from 31 incidents in 2014.

The Narva River is on average only 300 meters (1,000 feet) wide and not heavily guarded by Russians or Estonians at some points, making crossing possible — though not easy — even by swimming.

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5:10 p.m.

Danish officials have rescued four men who tried to reach Sweden from Denmark after their boat sank in the sea between the two countries.

Police spokesman Henrik Moeller Jakobsen said Tuesday a helicopter picked up one man off the Danish island of Saltholm, and flew him to an intensive care unit. His condition was not immediately known.

The others were rescued from the shallow waters off another Danish island and were in a good condition.

Moeller Jakobsen said the men had set off Monday "somewhere along the coast."

He said two of them were Moroccans, but didn't further identify the men.

It was the first known incident where migrants try to reach Sweden by sailing on their own. Police say more than two dozen migrants have attempted to walk on the bridge and tunnel connecting the two countries.

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3:10 p.m.

The European Union says it is moving ahead with plans to allow Turkish citizens to travel to Europe without visas despite President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's stated refusal to change Turkey's anti-terror laws.

The EU says Turkey must narrow its definition of "terrorist" and "terrorist act" to secure a visa waiver. The EU is concerned that journalists and political dissenters are targeted.

European Commission spokesman Alexander Winterstein said Tuesday that "we have the word of the Turkish government and we will continue working with the Turkish government."

The Commission has not received official word from Ankara that visa talks have ended.

The waiver is an incentive — along with up to 6 billion euros ($6.8 billion) and fast-track EU membership talks — for Turkey to stop migrants leaving for Europe.

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3:05 p.m.

The United Nations refugee agency is urging authorities in Slovakia to investigate an incident in which a woman was shot when border guards fired at a car carrying migrants.

Budapest-based UNHCR regional spokesman Babar Baloch said that an inquiry is needed to "ensure accountability," adding that the 26-year-old Syrian woman is out of danger but still in intensive care.

In Monday's incident, Slovak police wanted to stop suspicious four cars and opened fire when one driver tried to flee.

Slovak state television reported that 11 migrants and six smugglers had been detained and all would be expelled.

Baloch said Tuesday that countries' border management had to be consistent with obligations to protect asylum-seekers and that more "legal pathways" were needed in Europe so refugees can avoid smugglers.

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2:55 p.m.

Germany's interior minister says his country will extend border controls that it launched in September after the European Commission gave its clearance for the move.

Thomas de Maiziere said in Berlin Tuesday that German federal police will continue with the checks in the absence of effective controls on the European Union's external borders.

The EU's executive Commission said last week that it would activate a provision allowing for another six months of border controls in some member countries.

Germany registered nearly 1.1 million people as asylum-seekers last year. The number of newcomers has diminished vastly since the closure of the Balkan route used by many refugees and other migrants — fewer than 16,000 people were registered in April — but officials are wary of a possible further influx via Italy.

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2:45 p.m.

The head of Austria's centrist party is indirectly warning its government coalition partner that whomever they choose as the next prospective chancellor has to continue supporting the government's restrictive migrant policies.

Reinhold Mitterlehner spoke Tuesday, a day after the resignation of Werner Faymann as chancellor and head of the Social Democrats. Mitterlehner is acting chancellor, at least until the other party picks a replacement for Faymann.

Faymann resigned in part over mounting opposition within his party to his swing from an open door policy for refugees to one of the most restrictive regimes within the EU.

Noting that the restrictions were decided on jointly by both parties, Mitterlehner says that his People's Party wants "to follow through with our route in the refugee policy continuously and consequently."

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12:50 p.m.

Greek riot police have fired tear gas to stop a fight involving up to 300 refugees and other migrants at a sprawling tent city on the country's northern border with Macedonia.

Police say it was unclear why fighting broke out Tuesday between Syrian Arabs and ethnic Kurds armed with stones, sticks and metal bars at Idomeni. At least one man was injured, and no arrests were reported.

The camp is home to about 10,000 people thwarted from reaching Europe's prosperous heartland by a series of Balkan border closures this year.

Greek authorities have been trying for months, with little success, to persuade migrants at Idomeni to move to other organized camps.

About 54,000 refugees and other migrants are stuck in Greece, through which more than a million people passed since early 2015.

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12:25 p.m.

Hungary's parliament has endorsed a government-proposed referendum on the European Union's plan to resettle refugees within the bloc according to a quota system.

The resolution, which can be appealed at the Constitutional Court, was approved 136-5 with support from lawmakers of the governing Fidesz party, its Christian Democratic coalition partners and the far-right Jobbik party.

The referendum — valid if turnout is above 50 percent — is expected to held by October and cost up to 5 billion forints ($18 million).

The referendum question is: "Do you want the European Union to prescribe the mandatory settlement of non-Hungarian citizens in Hungary even without the consent of parliament?"

Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who rejects taking in migrants, says voting "no" in the referendum will be "in favor of Hungary's independence."

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10:45 a.m.

Human Rights Watch says Turkish border guards are continuing to shoot and beat Syrian refugees trying to cross into Turkey and is calling on the country to investigate abuses.

The advocacy group said in a statement Tuesday Turkish border guards in March and April used excessive force against Syrians and a smuggler trying to reach Turkey, killing five people, including a child and injuring 14 others.

The group also urged Turkey to reopen its border to Syrians.

Turkey, home to 2.7 million Syrian refugees, rejects claims that its border guards shoot at refugees and says it has an open-door policy toward migrants, although new arrivals are rare.

Human Rights Watch researcher Gerry Simpson said: "Firing at traumatized men, women, and children fleeing fighting and indiscriminate warfare is truly appalling."

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The item timed at 12:50 p.m. has been corrected to show that the fight was between Syrian Arabs and ethnic Kurds, following new information from the police.